P ETER MINK waited several days before he knocked at Mrs. Rabbit's door again. And when he did at last come back, he first made sure that her husband was not at home. You see, Peter had heard that Mr. Rabbit had told some of the forest-people that Peter had broken his saw, so he wouldn't have to saw wood to pay for the food that Mrs. Rabbit gave him.
When Mrs. Rabbit saw who it was that knocked, she came very near shutting the door in Peter's face. But she couldn't help noticing again how thin Peter was. And when he asked again for something to eat she hadn't the heart to refuse him.
"You're not ill, are you?" she asked.
"Well—yes, I am!" said Peter Mink, boldly. He would actually rather tell a lie than work. And he thought that if he said he was ill, Mrs. Rabbit wouldn't expect him to do any work to pay for what she might give him.
"You look to me as if you needed some cambric tea," Mrs. Rabbit said.
Now, if there was anything that Peter Mink disliked, it was cambric tea. If she had said "chicken broth," he might have liked that.
"I've been very ill," he said. "But now the doctor tells me I must have good, nourishing food—and plenty of it."
"Well, if you're well enough to eat, you're well enough to work," said Mrs. Rabbit.
"Oh, certainly!" answered Peter.
Mrs. Rabbit went into the house then. And when she came out again Peter Mink was surprised at what she brought. He had expected another plateful of goodies. But instead of that, Mrs. Rabbit had an axe in her hand.
"Here!" she said. "Take this out to the wood-pile—and use it! I want you to split every stick of wood you can find. Then knock on the door again and I'll bring you something to eat."
You ought to have seen Peter Mink scowl, as he walked away to the wood-pile with the axe on his shoulder. It was a lesson to anybody, never to frown!
"She needn't think she can make me work!" Peter said to himself. "I'll just break her old axe—that's what I'll do!" And he swung the axe with all his might at a stick of wood.
But the axe didn't break. And as for the stick, it fell in two pieces; for Peter had split it perfectly.
He was so out of patience that he aimed a hard blow at another stick of wood. Again, he didn't hurt the axe at all. And again he split the wood exactly as Mrs. Rabbit wanted him to. But Peter never thought of that.
Peter Mink scowled even worse than ever. And he made up his mind that he would break Mrs. Rabbit's axe if he had to use up the whole wood-pile to do it.
Well, that is just what happened. Peter tried so hard to break the axe so he wouldn't have to work, that before he knew it he had split all the wood.
He was just about to look for a rock, then—on which to break the axe—when he happened to think that there was no longer any sense in trying to do that, because the work was all done!
So he put the axe across his shoulder and went and knocked on Mrs. Rabbit's door.
"Bring on your food!" he said, when Mrs. Rabbit appeared.
"Is the axe all right?" she asked. "It didn't break, did it?"
"No, indeed!" he said—"though I was rather expecting it would."
"Is the wood all split?" she inquired.
"Every stick of it!" answered Peter.
"Then bring it here, near the back door," Mrs. Rabbit told him. "That will help pay for the saw you broke here last week."
"I'll do nothing of the kind!" said Peter Mink. And he was so angry that he went back to the wood-pile and began throwing sticks of wood at Mrs. Rabbit's house, trying to break a window. And before he knew it he had thrown the whole wood-pile in almost the exact spot where Mrs. Rabbit wanted it. And he hadn't broken a single window, either.
But Peter Mink never once realized what he had done. He went off to take a swim in the brook, and maybe catch a trout.
Later when Mrs. Rabbit saw that in spite of what Peter had said, he had moved her wood-pile for her, she wondered why he had not asked for something to eat. But Peter Mink never knocked on her door again. He kept away from Mrs. Rabbit ever afterward, because she was the only person who had ever been able to make him work.